Monday, July 11, 2011

Bad Service in Food Service at BWI Airport

It was late on a Wednesday afternoon in the Southwest Airlines terminal of the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It was about 7:00 p.m. and my connecting flight home was two and a half hours away. The day had been long; food had been little and far between. I was on the hunt for a nice sit-down meal.

Standing in front of Phillips Famous Seafood, I was reviewing my day and savoring what might be ahead. I had been told Phillips was very good.

This business trip was a one-dayer which included a 6:10 a.m. departing flight out of Raleigh, connecting in Baltimore and landing in Louisville before 9:30 a.m. The return included a 5:10 p.m. flight from Louisville with the lengthy layover in Baltimore and a scheduled 10:35 p.m. arrival into Raleigh. My alarm, set for 4:15 that morning, failed me and when I opened my eyes, the clock read 4:56!

It’s obvious now that I can shave, shower, and dress a little faster than usual. Even with a 15 minute drive to the airport, parking the car, walking to the terminal, having my briefcase checked through the scanning device twice and once by a TSA employee, and stopping long enough to purchase a copy of The News & Observer, I managed to board in my A28 spot in line.

The Baltimore connection was just 30 minutes, during which the first inkling of bad food service in one of the nicest terminals came straight at me. As I literally ran from arrival gate toward departure gate, I stopped in at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee and a breakfast something-a-rather, whatever the Golden Arches serves these days. I asked to put the cream and sugar into the cup myself and was told McDonald’s does it for you. The last time I was told the same, I ended up with three creams and three sugars. I prefer no more than one of each and sometimes less so, after this second try on the coffee, McDonald’s has lost me again as a customer. Arby’s fulfilled my request and sold me the egg, bacon, and cheese biscuit; I was off for Louisville.

What I did in Louisville is of no meaning or interest here, but it should turn out to be a success for business. So, what you are about to read (if you’ll keep going) is a true story and in one sense unbelievable but, considering the lack of desire some people have about working in the service industry even after taking the job, what happened to me could happen to you.

During that stop in Baltimore on the return trip, after pacing from one end of the terminal and back surveying most of the restaurant choices, I was standing in front of Phillips Famous Seafood, looking at the menu. I zeroed in on the fish selections and the crab cakes but was soon told those items were no longer available that evening. No problem, I thought, looking over the menu, when the hostess said quietly: “If you want a good crab cake, go to the other end of the terminal to Obrycki’s Restaurant and Bar. I’ve never eaten there but I’ve sent plenty of customers who came back to say thanks for the tip.”

Off I went; time was wasting. No, I was just a little more than two hours away from departure; a little hungrier; a lot more tired. Soon and very quickly after arrival, I was seated in Obrycki’s, very much a bar atmosphere in BWI but the menu looked wonderful. The waitress came right over and asked for a drink order. I just wanted a glass of water but was more interested in her menu suggestions. The decision, based on our talk, was the crab soup and the broiled crab cake. Others nearby seemed to be enjoying the same. I was anxious to enjoy mine. The order was set and off she went.

Five minutes later, no water yet, I caught the waitress’s eye and she immediately brought a large full glass. I was thirsty and quickly drank half of it. And then I waited for the food. And I waited and waited and waited. I was getting antsy. I looked around for her attention again, but she was busy on the other side of the restaurant. The couple next to me wished me luck in getting served, “but at least you got your water; we didn’t,” said the gentleman as he finished his food and paid his bill.

After 25 minutes of waiting, the waitress made her way back to my table. “Can I get you anything else?” she asked. “I’d just like my food,” I responded. “You’ve not gotten your food yet?” she said with some shock and then off she went as I looked perplexed at her response. Within a minute, she returned and asked, “Did you have the Caesar salad?” More the perplexed and a little perturbed, I told her “no” and reminded her of what I had ordered; her face showed more shock. Off she scurried. I followed with briefcase in tow, asking to see the manager. After a brief interlude, he came out and asked if I needed some assistance. I told him my problem. He was very abrupt and asked in harsh words, “Do you want your food or not?” It was too late for that, I explained as I walked out, hungrier, more and more tired, and getting a little more than miffed. My hunt for food continued.

Next stop, around the corner and closer to my departure gate, was the Silver Diner, an interesting place with a vast menu of breakfast, sandwiches, and other typical diner food including some seafood. Seating at Silver Diner includes some tables “outside” the main room in an area overlooking airport terminal construction, some tables inside a fake wrought iron fence, and two long “bars,” one facing an array of select adult beverage bottles and one facing the kitchen. “Would you like a table inside or out or would you prefer to sit at the bar and watch TV?” asked the host.

Not only did I opt for a bar seat but one at the long and empty area near the back of the room, facing the kitchen. I did so because there seemed to be a plethora of wait people and no one else was seated at any of the 25 seats. As I saddled up to the bar, waitresses a plenty walked back and forth in front of me, none paying any attention to this now weary and hungry traveler with about 90 minutes to take-off for home. I finally asked no one in particular if I could get a glass of water. “That’s your waitress over there,” one said. “She’ll be with you in a moment.”

Looking to my left, I noticed the waitress assigned to my space was talking with other of similar employment, none moving about taking care of the patrons. About 30 seconds later, she came over and asked if I knew what I wanted to order to drink. “Yes, a glass of water, but do you have any suggestions for dinner?” I responded. Then she mumbled something that ended with “grilled crab cakes and breakfast all day.” I asked for clarification of what she said in front of “grilled crab cakes and breakfast all day, and she mumbled again as she tried to move away, I think to get my water. I asked that she speak a little slower and she yelled, “I RECOMMEND THE GRILLED CRAB CAKES AND BREAKFAST ALL DAY!” Then she moved away, I thought to return with water.

Think again. Two minutes later, I had no water, there was no order taken, and no waitress was standing in front of me. She was down at the other end of the bar, gabbing to her fellow waitresses. She soon walked past and I asked again for water. She said she would get it soon. She started filling glasses with ice but none with water and walked past again with drinks in hand, set them down nearby and started her gabfest again. I asked no one in particular for the manager. Soon a slightly built man about six feet tall walked out from the back and asked if I had a problem. I explained what had just happened. His response, “Do you want to eat here? If so, sit down and someone will help you soon.”

That was enough for me. I said his chance was lost on this potential customer and I was soon headed past the fake wrought iron fence and back into the terminal proper. Quiznos, one of the fast food places along fast food row, was my next stop. I quickly ordered the Chicken Carbonara sub expecting somewhat quick service with a somewhat decent tasting sandwich. Guess again.

Just as I ordered, there was what seemed like a shift change in the production line. There appeared a bossy woman who told the others that she would take over and make the sandwiches. The only other person helping her was the guy at the other end of the toasting conveyor who pulled the completed sandwich from the oven, cut it in half, wrapped it, announced what it is and handed it to the claiming customer.

From the time I ordered to the time she took control making my dinner, three other customers ordered. All four orders were handed to her together and she positioned them in front of her. By now you may have guessed, my order, instead of being at the front of the line, now was at the back of the group. What was first became last, not a good sign for my needs. Irritation was increasing. I thought of Obrycki’s and the Silver Diner. I watched and waited as she started her process. She must have been related to the waitress at the Silver Diner because she was soon into a gabfest with anyone around her who would listen and all those who wouldn’t.

Of the three in front of me, she correctly prepared only one which means she made two wrong sandwiches. “My bad,” she said loudly, laughing. “I’ll just make’em again.” I wasn’t the only irritated soul on my side of the counter. Two others were in my camp. One said, “This is nuts. If she would just pay attention, she would get it right.” She made those two before tackling my Chicken Carbonara: “Chicken, bacon, mozzarella, mushrooms, Creamy Bacon Alfredo Sauce; Served on your choice of Artisan Breads: Italian White, 9 Grain Artisan Wheat, Rosemary Parmesan, or Italian Herb.” I chose wheat bread which did little to help my health. Here’s what the Quiznos website says about the sandwich: 515 calories, 25 grams of fat; 60 mg of cholesterol; 1130 mg of sodium. (The Arby's bacon, egg and cheese biscuit a few hours earlier: 450 calories, 26 fat grams, 165 mg of cholesterol, 1610 mg of sodium. Let's face it: Fast Food as we know it is terrible for anyone and everyone.) Now back to the story.

To her credit, she made it correctly the first time but after being first, now I was sixth. The sandwich made its way through the toasting oven and into the hands of the cutter and wrapper. He did his duty, announced “Chicken Carbonara” and started to hand it to me. As I reached for it, he pulled it back just a bit and asked, “Thank you?” I stared him down, grabbed the sandwich. “What, no ‘have a nice day,?” he asked as I walked away and soon found myself consuming a most terrible sandwich. It may have been better if she had made a mistake. No more Quiznos for me.

As I sat at the nearby table, pondering and noting what had transpired that evening, a gentleman at the next table who had seen my frustration spoke up. “They just don’t want to work around here,” he said.

“You’re right,” I said. “Not just here at Quiznos. Let me tell you about the rest of my evening.”

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